Malankara World Journal - Christian Spirituality from an Orthodox Perspective
Malankara World Journal
Nineveh Lent Special
Volume 6 No. 326 January 17, 2016

III. Destruction of Mosul & Nineveh, Iraq

Love in the Ruins of Mosul

by Matthew Becklo

The world was horrified after a video showing the beheading of 21 Coptic Christians in Libya was released by ISIS in early 2015. But for the people of Mosul, the brutality of the ISIS regime had become a daily reality when the terrorist group took over the Iraqi city months earlier. Christians living in Mosul faced a grim choice: they could convert to Islam, pay a crushing fine or leave the city within 24 hours. If they didn't leave, they were summarily executed. (As Kirsten Powers notes in USA Today, it's only gotten worse from there - in fact, what's happening to Christians in the Middle East is now nothing short of genocide.)

Shortly after that video was released, a very different type of video made the rounds, one with beautiful imagery and a letter "from the People of the Cross":

Love is coming after you
Like a rush of wind grazing over the pacific
From hills of the mount of olives to the desert winds of Jordan
From the cedars of Lebanon to the silk roads of the East
An army comes. With no tanks or soldiers
But an army of martyrs faithful unto death
Carrying a message of life
The people of the cross
Comes to die at your gates
If you wont hear our message with words
Then we will show you with our lives
Laid down

"Who Would Dare to Love ISIS" was created by Michael Chang, founder of "media missionary" organization Mighty.LA. In an interview with National Review, Chang admits that the idea behind the video was farthest thing from natural or easy. But after the propaganda out of Libya, he felt called to remind ISIS who they are, and Christians who they are called to be - not as a political statement, but as a refusal to lose sight of the message of radical love at the heart of the Gospels.

"There's definitely a sense in the Western church that we've really fallen short of what it means to be Christ-followers," Chang explains. "We see what God is doing in other parts of the world and we're left wondering why and how we've lost that first love - ISIS continues to murder people because they've never experienced a love like this - how much guilt must hang over the hearts of ISIS members, who behead people? They might never admit it, but I know the guilt and shame is there. Hurt people hurt people, and loved people love."

Refugee children forced to leave Syria

Portraits of Young Lives, Interrupted by War
Swedish photographer captures tender moments of children
forced to leave Syria Photo by ARMEND NIMANI / AFP

(A photographic collection of refugee children sleeping on the ground throughout the region is food for thought in this regard. Could some of ISIS' members have had a childhood like this, sleeping on the ground after seeing their loved ones arrested and executed? Are these children, who are afraid of their pillows because they associate them with nighttime gunfire, primed to die by the sword like their persecutors? What if they had been loved their whole lives instead? Where would they be now?)

On the heels of ISIS-inspired attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, Chang is out with a new documentary short featuring nine Christian refugees from all walks of life - a lecturer, a cook, a student, a police officer - describing how their lives were turned upside down in Mosul and addressing their persecutors.

"On 6.9.14," the video begins, "ISIS invaded Mosul, the second-largest city in Iraq. Half a million people fled in the next two days, leaving behind everything they owned. From the ruins, nine refugees dare to testify of a love that no one can take away."

The Nine brings us face-to-face with people - not political or social abstractions, but flesh and blood individuals with children and jobs and daily routines - who have been swallowed up in the darkness of violence. But even as their lives crumble around them, it's that love and forgiveness that still burns in their eyes and speech - that perennial mark of the people of the cross - that makes this unforgettable.

Watch the Video: The Nine: Overcoming ISIS


ISIS Destroy The Tomb Of The Prophet Jonah

by Walid Shoebat and Theodore Shoebat

Members of ISIS, destroyed the tomb of the prophet Jonah (called Younas in Arabic).

Destroying the tomb of Prophet Jonah in Mosul

Destroying the tomb of Prophet Jonah in Mosul

Destroying the tomb of Prophet Johah

According to one Mid East report:

On Friday a local Nineveh official, Zuhair al-Chalabi said that there is information that almost certainly confirms that members of the organization of the Islamic state in Iraq and the Levant dug up the grave of the Prophet Younis in the east of Mosul.

Al-Chalabi said in an interview for, that "The elements of ISIL controlled the mosque of the Prophet Younis in Mosul since they invaded the city. It is still held by them until now," pointing out that "elements of ISIL engaged in the process of tampering with the contents of the Mosque."

Al-Chalabi added that "there is almost certain information stating the fact that the elements of ISIL dug up the grave of the Prophet Younis."

In just one day, ISIL members committed a series of horrific crimes which illustrate their hostile nature, said Iraqi police in Ninawa spokesman Maj. Ahmed al-Obaidi.

"They torched 11 churches and monasteries out of 35 scattered across the city of Mosul, and hours later destroyed statues of poets, literary and historical figures of which Mosul has long been proud," he said.

Three Sunni clerics were killed at the hands of ISIL gunmen in different parts of Mosul, he added.

The clerics, named Khattab Hassan, 43, Riyadh al-Wandi, 39, and Abdul Ghafoor Salman, 48, had called on local residents to reject the ISIL and had refused to leave the city, al-Obaidi said.

The gunmen then demolished the historic grave of the prophet Yunus (Jonah) and the shrine of prophet Shayth (Seth), revered by Muslims and Christians alike, which are located inside centuries-old mosques, he said.

Surely these Muslims are devils! They sacked the tomb of the beautiful tomb of the prophet Jonah, the one who God chose to preach to Nineveh. And now in the same area of Nineveh, the devil only wants to take back the people to whom Jonah preached. Let us read from the Scriptures on what the holy Jonah did:

So Jonah arose, and went unto Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceeding great city of three days' journey.

And Jonah began to enter into the city a day's journey, and he cried, and said, Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown.

So the people of Nineveh believed God, and proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them.

For word came unto the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, and he laid his robe from him, and covered him with sackcloth, and sat in ashes.

And he caused it to be proclaimed and published through Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles, saying, Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste any thing: let them not feed, nor drink water:

But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily unto God: yea, let them turn every one from his evil way, and from the violence that is in their hands.

Who can tell if God will turn and repent, and turn away from his fierce anger, that we perish not?

And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil, that he had said that he would do unto them; and he did it not.
- (Jonah 3:3-10)

And was it not Christ who declared:

The men of Nineveh shall rise in judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: because they repented at the preaching of Jonas; and, behold, a greater than Jonas is here.
- (Matthew 12:41)

The Muslims are destroying all of the holy sites; everything sacred they hate.


Jewish Heartbreak and Hope in Nineveh

by Carlos C. Huerta

'Climbing over the rotting garbage, I realized I was the first Jew to enter this holy place in over 50 years'

I am writing to you from Nineveh, the city of the prophet Jonah. Its present name is Mosul. I have had the privilege of seeing its ancient walls, of touching its stones, of going to the grave Islamic tradition says is the prophet Jonah's.

There is a mosque at the site; but hundreds of years ago, the Iraqis we work with tell me, it was a synagogue. They tell me the reason the site is so sacred is because of the sacredness in which the Jews held it. Presently, there are no signs of this ancient synagogue.

I am the rabbi of the 101st Airborne Division, the division Steven Spielberg immortalized in his epic Band of Brothers. We, the soldiers of the 101st Airborne, fought our way up from the south, from Kuwait. The battle took us past Ur, the city where Abraham was born. We maintained contact with the enemy, passed the site of the great talmudic academies of Sura and Pumpaditya, to the city of Babylon, where the prophet Daniel was taken.

There we engaged the Nebuchadnezzar Iraqi Armored Division and beat them. We continued the battle to Baghdad, where so many Jews lived and were massacred in the summer of 1948. It was the city of so many of our sages, including the Ben Ish Chai.

Now we are in Mosul. I ask about the Jews who lived here, and very few remember them. Many say Jews never lived here; but my heart tells me different. The old ones tell me there was a Jewish quarter, a synagogue, study halls, and a cemetery.

One day, while searching the streets of the ancient city, I came across a building missing half of its roof. The site was a garbage dump and the building's interior was three-quarters full of rotting garbage, feces and sewage. I had to crouch down low to get inside as the doorway was almost completely buried.

As I entered light came through the half-open roof and I could just make out writing engraved on the walls. It was Hebrew. It was then that I knew I had stumbled into the ancient synagogue of the city of Mosul-Nineveh. My heart broke as I climbed over the garbage piles that filled the room where, for hundreds of years, the prayers of Jews had reached the heavens. I realized I was probably the first Jew to enter this holy place in over 50 years.

Over three-and-a half meters of garbage filled the main sanctuary and what appeared to be the women's section. I could barely make it out because of the filth, but there was Hebrew writing on the walls.

Many Iraqis congregated around me, wanting to know what I was doing. My translator said that the American army was interested in old archeological sites of all kinds. I asked them if they knew what this place was, and they all said in an instant: It was the house where the Jews prayed.

THEY TOLD me that the houses in the streets surrounding the synagogue had been filled with Jews. They took me to the children's yeshiva, a marbled edifice that no longer had a roof, only walls and half-rooms. There was a vagrant family living there and when I asked them what this place was, they said it was a Jewish school for children.

As I walked through the quarter I was shown the grave of the prophet Daniel, once a synagogue. I saw that many of the doorposts had an engraving of the lion of Judah on the top.

I felt the presence of our people, of their daily lives as merchants, teachers, rabbis, doctors, and tailors. I felt their rush to get ready for Shabbat, felt their presence as they walked to the synagogue on Yom Kippur. I could almost hear singing in the courtyards, in the succot, as they invited in the ushpizin. I could hear the Pessah songs echoing through the narrow streets late into the night.

And the children, I could see their shadows as they raced down the alleys and around the corners, playing. I heard their voices learning the aleph beth in the yeshivot as they prepared for their bar and bat mitzvot.

But I also heard the babies crying, and I could see the young daughters of Zion clinging to their mother's skirts, asking why the bad people were killing them and making them leave their homes of thousands of years.

Tears came to my eyes, but I had to hold them back lest I put myself and the soldier with me in a dangerous situation. I had to pretend that I was only mildly interested in what they were showing me.

How does one absorb this kind of experience? How do I convey the feeling of hearing all those voices reaching out in prayer at the synagogue as I stood on top of all that garbage? How do I recover our history, how do I bring honor to a holy place that has been so desecrated?

I have no answers. I only have great sadness, pain, and loneliness.

Since then I have gone back to the Jewish quarter of old Mosul with members of my congregation, Jewish soldiers of the 101st: infantrymen, artillerymen, medics, pilots, lawyers, doctors, all proud to be Jewish and serving their country. Together we have found five more synagogues, more yeshivot and many Jewish homes. They have all come away profoundly affected by what they saw. They are saddened, but yet proud to be connected to such an ancient and rich tradition in this historic city of Nineveh.

I SEARCHED the ancient city near cemeteries in hope of finding the Jewish cemetery. I found a Christian cemetery and a British War cemetery situated next to each other. The British War cemetery is now used as a soccer field. The cemetery was marked as a war memorial cemetery and the dates were for World War I and World War II.

There was a marker in the cemetery written in English and Sanskrit, dedicated to the Hindu and Sikh soldiers of Her Majesty's army who died while serving. Another one, written in English and Arabic, was dedicated to the Muhammadan soldiers in Her Majesty's army who died while serving, and a third marker had nothing on it. These markers were over seven meters high.

The third marker could have had a dedication, but if so it had been destroyed or removed. Scattered all through the cemetery were fragments of tombstones, some with a few words of English, some with a cross on them. Outside these three markers there were no standing tombstones anywhere, only broken fragments scattered in corners. The cemetery was surrounded by a 1.5-meter wall and an entrance gate.

About half a meter inside the cemetery, barely showing through the surface, was a fragment my assistant, Specialist William Rodriguez, discovered. By working with me over these last few months he has learned to recognize Hebrew letters. As we dug it out we noticed it had both Hebrew and English on it .

I was so excited to see it, yet so sad. There are many possible explanations, but the one I think most plausible is that it was the grave marker of a British soldier, a young man by the name of Zev. The British Army had contacted the local Jewish community to have a stone engraver put Hebrew on the stone along with the English. It was their way of honoring and respecting their fallen comrade.

If this explanation is true then this cemetery contains those of the Hindu, Sikh, Islamic, Christian, and Jewish faiths, all soldiers who died in the service of their country. The obvious question: Is death the only way these great faiths can coexist in peace? We would hope not.

I have not yet discovered the ancient Jewish cemetery of the Jews of Mosul-Nineveh. My instincts tell me it is nearby, but in the last 60 years it has probably been desecrated and obliterated. One native I talked to told me that a major highway had been built through it.

I will continue to search as my military mission allows me. I have taken Zev's marker and reburied it in the cemetery. I have said kaddish for him and for all the other Jewish souls that may be buried here.

THERE IS a great history to be written here, a great opportunity to recover the lost narrative of our people, the Sephardim of Iraq. My prayer and hope is that when the gates finally open for scholars the remnants of our people will still be here for historians to recover.

I have taken many pictures in case those who have no vision destroy the few remnants that remain. I hope there are yet some Jews from this important and holy community still alive in Israel. If so they will be able to add to the oral history of what will, God willing, be discovered here.

If this chapter of history is erased, it will never be recovered again. I pray that those with more resources, more connections, and more wisdom than I will be able to add to these pages of our great history. I am only thankful that God has given me a small part in it.

May the memories of our brothers and sisters - hakahal hakadosh d'Nineveh - the holy community of Nineveh - never be forgotten.

The writer, a major, is United States Army Battalion Chaplain (rabbi) 1st Battalion, 320th Field Artillery 101st Airborne Division (Screaming Eagles).

Source: Jerusalem Post

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